If you have ever stopped into O’Brien’s Market in Riverbank, there is a good chance you know Kenny Wey. He has been employed with O’Brien’s since Aug. 1, 1984. Recently, he served his last customer, hung up his apron, and officially retired from the market on Aug. 27.
Wey had been in the grocery industry since he was a kid slicing up bologna at a local place called Courtesy Market in Riverbank back in the day. He would stack pop bottles and do other things as well.
“We lived right by it,” said Wey about his beginnings in the industry that led to decades working as a butcher. “And I was slicing bologna when I was 12 years old. They called me the Bologna boy. They saw that I was eager to learn and so the old guy took me under his wing. Everyone knows I don’t like a lot of change. So I stuck with it and it has been a great trade. It’s been a hard trade but it’s been a great trade.”
Wey was introduced to the O’Brien family when he was at Riverbank High School and Francis O’Brien was his teacher all four years from 1971-75. O’Brien was a mentor for him along with his parents Bud and Marian Wey.
He said, “OB taught a lot of us Riverbankers important tools that we have used our entire lives. Dad was in the Marines and taught me respect and discipline. Mom was a frugal homemaker that raised eight children and taught us to be thrifty and kind.”
With his path set in the grocery store industry and his training in the meat department, Wey witnessed the O’Brien’s go from a mom and pop, small grocery store to what they are today. When the Riverbank location opened in 1995 Wey took on the role of Meat Manager and managed the department for 28 years.
“I just applaud the O’Brien’s for their work with the community,” stated Wey. “They put in countless hours to ensure their customers’ product. They (Chuck and Bill O’Brien) are very hard-working bosses and very special to me. Bill was 11 years old when I started working there and I watched him grow up and become an awesome businessman.”
“I was 11 when he started with us,” noted Bill O’Brien. “He has done such a great job for our company. We are excited that he is able to retire but it does make us sad. We are jealous that they get to retire. We are actually so excited that we’ve been able to provide a career for them, that they are able to retire out. You know, it’s just so incredible.”
Wey explained that through the years he has seen several changes including breaking down the carcass of beef. They would get big half slabs of beef that would hang on big hooks that he would break down each cut to merchandise.
“We had to break it down like the old butchers did,” added Wey. “It was hard work and you had to merchandise the beef into all of the different cuts. Now you get boxed beef that comes in primal cuts. I have trained many people over the years to cut meat and some of them are still doing it.”
Providing service to the community over the counter in the meat department for three decades, he has made a lot of friends and has enjoyed serving them which makes retirement well deserved but also “bittersweet.”
“I have had a great rapport with my customers,” remarked Wey. “I have very loyal customers that I really want to thank and many that have become good friends.”
Wey is also incredibly grateful of his family and their immense love and support, especially his wife Theresa. He lends his gratitude to her for all of her support and understanding of the pressures of the retail business. They have both been part of the workforce since they were kids.
“Kenny is just a really nice guy,” shared O’Brien. “That’s the way to sum it up. He bent over backwards for all his customers, making sure that their meat purchase was absolutely perfect. He helped select turkey for customers for many years. You know when you have someone that’s just nice and cares about people … it’s just an incredible asset.”
The next chapter that Wey is looking forward to will include guitar playing and RV traveling along with working on the ranch where there is always plenty to do. As one of his favorite George Strait songs states: “The last goodbye is the hardest one to say, this is where the cowboy rides away.”